Mixed messages from Farnborough

We speculate on the implications of two announcements today from the Farnborough Air Show.

The first concerns the UK’s planned new fighter jet, the Tempest, which has just been unveiled.


The BBC reports:

‘The craft will eventually replace the existing Typhoon fighter jet. It will be developed and built by BAE Systems, engine maker Rolls-Royce, Italy’s Leonardo and missiles expert MBDA.

Aerospace giant Airbus embraced the move: “Airbus welcomes the UK’s commitment of funding for the future fighter project. We look forward to continuing collaborative discussions with all relevant European players.”

Earlier, the chief executive of BAE Systems, Charles Woodburn, told the BBC’s Today programme that the new jet would be some time in coming. He said, “We already have the Typhoon platform which forms the absolute bedrock of European air defence and that’ll be in service for decades to come,” and he added that the inner workings of the new craft would start life within the Typhoon.’

We note that MBDA is a European developer and manufacturer of missiles. It was formed by a merger of French Aérospatiale-Matra Missiles, Italian Alenia Marconi Systems and British Matra BAe Dynamics in December 2001.

So it seems the Tempest will be metric like its predecessor, the Eurofighter Typhoon.

The second announcement, this time by the Government, concerns the UK’s space programme:


The government press release says:

‘• Lockheed Martin to establish vertical launch operations in Sutherland, Scotland and develop innovative technologies in Reading, Berkshire with support from two UK Space Agency grants totalling £23.5 million.
• A further £5.5 million will go to British company Orbex to build an innovative new rocket for launch from Sutherland, as part of Government’s modern Industrial Strategy.’

A possible issue here is the involvement of ‘global space leader’ Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin UK Limited (LMUK) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, headquartered in London. The company was created in 1999, combining all of Lockheed Martin’s UK operations into one company. However, Lockheed Martin is an American aerospace, defence, security and advanced technologies company with worldwide interests. Its headquarters are in Maryland, USA.

So whose measurement system will be used? Will this be ‘America first’? Perhaps another Mars Orbiter in the making? And does the UK Government see a place for Imperial and US Customary measurements in its ‘modern Industrial Strategy’ – some of them worked for George Stephenson and Joseph Whitworth after all!

One thought on “Mixed messages from Farnborough”

  1. Lockheed-Martin like most American companies will within the US will most likely use metric only when explicitly requested and mandated on a project but will also use as much USC as they can get away with. Their contribution will be mostly hybrid. I’m sure after the 1999 fiasco, they have no choice but to comply with the project leader’s wishes and not ignore requests for metric and try to get away with it.

    Lockheed-Martin’s UK operations maybe more metric friendly than its American parent company if the output of the UK division primarily services other metric European, American and International companies and partners.

    I can’t say how much input Lockheed-Martin has in the space industry presently in the US, but other than the 1999 fiasco, their name isn’t mentioned in the common press. The only company one hears about quite often and is a leader in space projects is SpaceX. SpaceX operates internally in metric.

    There are a number of American aerospace companies that use metric internally because of their international outreach.


    From the 2009 article in New Scientist:

    “NASA’s decision to engineer its replacement for the space shuttle using imperial [sic] measurement (in 2009) units rather than metric could derail efforts to develop a globalised civilian space industry, says a leading light in the nascent commercial spaceflight sector.”

    “We in the private sector are doing everything possible to create a global market with as much commonality and interoperability as possible,” says Mike Gold of the US firm Bigelow Aerospace, which hopes to fly commercial space stations in orbit. “But NASA still can’t make the jump to metric.”

    Gold chairs a Federal Aviation Administration working group on commercial spaceflight that is trying to change strict State Department rules affecting civilian spaceflight systems. He sees NASA’s decision to use imperial units as the latest blow to hit the sector.”

    Gold sees the latest announcement as significant backtracking: “The space program is supposed to be about bridging barriers and bringing humanity closer together. Failing to adopt a globally accepted uniform system of measurement seems to fly in the face of that.”

    “Operating in space while using two different systems of measurement certainly opens the door for problematic mistakes and miscommunications,” he adds.”

    Since that time (in 2010), President Obama cancelled NASA’s USC based projects and now NASA contracts with private companies using SI internally. Thus ending the potential measurement concerns and problems. The progressive companies mentioned in the article are working internally in metric, and hopefully Lockheed-Martin, when it comes to space based products has fallen in line with the rest of the companies in this sector. The only way we can know is to witness for ourselves internal documentation such as drawings and see what units they employ.

    I’m sure though that Lockheed-Martin in 2018 is all about business and finds itself surrounded by metric companies and and sees itself as having no choice but to go with the flow. NASA tried to cling to USC primarily due to resistance from its aging engineering staff who didn’t want to upgrade their skills and wanted to maintain the status quo. We saw the outcome of that. Lockheed-Martin’s UK division may be populated with a younger group of talented engineers who have no experience in USC or imperial and are playing an integral role is assuring SI units are used to the fullest. Let’s hope.


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